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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


The History of Abracadabra Bookshop

I went into the book business after having taught at a local college for a number of years and having seen that the future looked bleak. Faculty were being cut and I knew there was no possibility of another job in my field: Colorado and Western History. What else could I do? I loved books. I had been collecting modestly in my field, and had several hundred books on Colorado and the West, so I started what I called The Western Americana Bookshop. For the first few years I ran the business on the side and still taught, which meant I did not have to take money out of the business – just as well! I knew little of the book business but learned as I went along. There were no book schools like the annual event in Colorado Springs, at that time, so it was pretty much ‘learn as you go.’ Twenty-eight years later I still learn and I still love it. It sure beats ‘working for a living’! And, like the guy who won the lottery, I will hold on until the money runs out.

I started Abracadabra Bookshop in 1977 and the first location was in the Nepenthes Cafe on Market Street in Denver. After buying out Stage House II in Boulder, we moved to new quarters on Court Place, above the bowling alley. Dealing with the owners, Hare Krishna, was not pleasant, so we purchased a Victorian house on West 32nd Avenue and moved our growing stock into the Carriage House in 1980. We stayed there very happily until 1994, when, bursting at the seams with over 50,000 volumes, we moved to 32 South Broadway. This was a learning experience for us. Despite being the busiest street in Denver, Broadway did not increase our sales. It did, however, increase the amount of theft!

Frustrated by theft and other problems such as lack of growth – we did a study which showed that only 2 percent of the population of Colorado were book buyers – we decided in 1998 to move to Texas. We located in the pleasant Gulf Coast town of Rockport, known for great fishing, year-round sailing, and good seafood. We knew that a small town of 15,000 would not have the over-the-counter sales of Denver, but hoped the growing Internet would help. We were quickly surprised at how good over the counter sales were! We were soon doing 1/3 of our Denver sales. Texans are readers and the other Texas dealers were friendly and helpful. Good people.

However, there was a dark side to the Texas experience. Texas taxes are very high. A latent law allowing used books to be taxed as inventory was activated in 2003 and this meant we had to leave Texas. The Tax was 2.6% of the value of your inventory, and the law allowed taxing authorities to check your income tax records to see what you claimed. An idea of how devastating this can be seen in one item – a set of Octavo Audubons valued at $40,000 would produce $1000 a year in tax! We had to leave. I was getting very good at packing up and moving books. When we moved from Court Place to West 32nd, with 30,000 books, it took a week, shelf to shelf. West 32nd to Broadway, with 50,000, was accomplished in 10 days. Denver to Rockport, with 80,000 books took 10 days to pack, a week to ship in two tractor trailers, and 3 days to get back on the shelf. Rockport to Denver, with approaching 100,000 books, took 5 hours to pack, 5 days to ship, 2 days to re-shelve, and the rest of our lives to alphabetize! If anyone needs guidance in this area, please feel free to call.

So, back to Denver in 2004 and a new location at 7030 East 46th Avenue Drive. Colorado Taxes are among the cheapest in the nation, thanks to a man named Bruce. It is a good place to be in the book business and, with the Internet, location is not nearly as important as it used to be. We are able to buy well here, although Rockport produced some amazing finds, such as the 1st Edition of William Morris’sWell at the World’s End in Very Good condition!

We provide a complete book service, with close to 100,000 volumes in stock, a free book search, and our books are listed on the ‘Net with several services. We do several book fairs every year, mostly in Texas. This brief account of our history would not be complete without mentioning my wife, Marcy, whose contributions after leaving the National Park Service have been marvelous, and over the years such great employees as Diane Kennedy, Joan Riddel, Russ Wiese, Jon Snurka, Caren Eno, Jack Plante, Katie Mclean, Melody Field, Melinda, Dan Gorski. and others. As always, we are always interested in purchasing good book collections.

Alan Culpin is the owner of Abracadabra Bookshop & Booksearch in Denver CO and can be contacted at (303) 733-5700,”, or




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